Guest post by Red Spex
Anti-detention campaigners yesterday won a sensational victory at a meeting held by the planning committee of Renfrewshire Council. Although this meeting was only the first stage of the planning process, and although the Home Office can appeal, it was a decisive strike against the British government’s racist asylum regime being enacted on Scottish soil.
There are currently fifteen million displaced people in the world. The new centre proposed by the Home Office was intended for the campus of Glasgow International Airport, which was a clear ploy to shuttle people out of the UK as quickly as possible before allowing them access to the Scottish legal system. We were met outside by Lorainne Cameron who we decided was trustworthy after a speedy google. She talked us through the three potential outcomes at the committee’s disposal: accepting the development; putting it to a full meeting of all council members; rejecting the proposal outright. She also told us about the number of spaces available to us in the public gallery. When we eventually went inside the modest amount of guest passes ran out fast, leaving dozens more demonstrators to make do in the cold. ATF managed to grab two of the seats at the meeting, and after offering round our smuggled-in chocolate digestives, things got underway.
It was hard not to get the impression that the councillors felt that the Home Office should not have gone over their heads by announcing their plans for the centre to the press before informing Renfrewshire’s planning committee. This was clearly seen as an affront, and the message from the councillors to the Home Office was that the UK government cannot dictate planning applications to local councils. The human aspect was also emphasised by councillors when voicing their rejections to the proposal. It was revealed that the council had previously decided to remove nearby residents and reject a planning application for a nursery on the grounds that the area was not fit for human habitation, because of its proximity to the airport. Yesterday’s decision gives hope to campaigners across the UK, because if Renfrewshire can say no to a detention centre, what is to stop other councils doing the same?
While Labour were in Holyrood, the SNP campaigned for so long about the barbaric conditions at Dungavel that they had no choice but to continue to take a stance against it when they came into power. But when this proposed new centre was announced it was not inconceivable that the SNP would take a “pragmatic” (read: right wing) stance in permitting the centre. It was made clear to us by Councillor Cameron that, to avoid legal action by the Home Office, councillors had to remain neutral before the case went to the committee. However it was revealed that before the meeting the Scottish Government sent around this document to councillors and press.
It states that if the centre were to be approved by yesterday’s committee then it would automatically have been passed on to Scottish Government ministers for a 28 day review period, giving them the right to make their own assessment and potentially challenge the Home Office. There was no similar provision to re-examine if the committee denied the planning permission.
Amidst the UK’s pathetic refusal to house refugees, it certainly suits the SNP to encourage a narrative that characterises Scotland as uniquely welcoming to those fleeing persecution, but on this and other issues there are real wins to be made. If the SNP can be held to account on their words now, it opens up the debate for the role an independent Scotland should play in the world – one that is welcoming to refugees and open to reparations for former colonies. The decision to reject the proposal was received with jubilation from everyone seated in the public gallery. This result and the extraordinary actions of the Scottish Government show that there are gains to be made by the left, even amongst the current constitutional standstill.
Credit must be given to The Unity Centre, Stop Detention Scotland and We Will Rise. They co-ordinated both the campaign of written objections and yesterday’s demonstration, and otherwise provide vital support to refugees that the rest of the left must learn from. Yesterday was a supremely encouraging day and served as a reminder that, despite the bile aimed towards displaced people across the globe, we can work towards detention becoming unacceptable in Scotland, and beyond. We can do this by collectively fighting the institutions that enact violence against refugees and winning these small-scale fights, over and over again.
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